Easter Island’s Volcanic Crater – Rano Kau

 

Rano Kau Volcano is one of those unique sights that exists at the intersection of natural beauty and human history.  Located on the southwestern tip of the island, it combines an absolutely stunning volcanic caldera filled with water and vegetation, and the ruins of a key ceremonial center of the Rapa Nui people.


 

Will and I started our day early, taking a quick bike ride from our hostel to the bottom of the Volcano.  From there, we began a relatively steep 45 minute hike up to the rim of the crater.

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The start of the hike
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The view of town from halfway up the volcano

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As we made our way up the last hill, we crested the rim of the crater and were greeted by this:IMG_3846IMG_3857

While definitely impressive, it was a bit cloudy; so, after a quick break we decided to continue onward to the ruins and come back to the crater later in the day when the rising temperature had hopefully burned off the low-hanging clouds.

To get to the ruins, we walked down a tiny path that circled the edge of the crater.IMG_3859

And then walked through the ruins:IMG_3865IMG_3863

I don’t think the ruins by themselves are particularly special.  It’s only when you learn about the history that the area becomes really interesting.  The site, the center of spiritual life for one of the cults on the island, was the starting and ending point for one of the most fascinating races I’ve ever heard of.

Once a year, the most worthy men of the bird-cult would leave from the site, descend down the side of the volcanic caldera, swim out into the ocean, and attempt to find the first bird egg laid on a tall spire of rock jutting out from the sea:

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Competitors would swim and climb up onto the tall, pointy spire – quite a distance away

Part of what makes this race so fascinating to me is the danger involved in it.  Many people would drown, get eaten by sharks, or fall to their death on the descent.  It’s easy to see how someone could die coming down the side of the volcano when you look at this picture – it was an incredibly steep descent:IMG_3870


After walking around the ruins for an hour or so, Will and I hiked back around the volcanic crater to eat lunch before heading back to town.  As we had hoped, the sun had come out and the view had improved dramatically:

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I love looking through these pictures of the crater – it was absolutely incredible.

Finally, we began our decent back to town.  Day three on Easter Island was a huge success.

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